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These stories were published Monday, May 30, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 105
Jo Stuart
About us
A day to remember those who guarantee democracy 
Being too nice can backfire
on any
Labor courts generally side with employees
By Garland M. Baker
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Many business owners have found out here in Costa Rica that if they give an inch their employees will take a mile. They must act fast to pull in the reins particularly after a recent landmark court decision. 

The labor court said that if an employer does not correct unwelcome actions by employees immediately, such actions become the rule.

Here is an example direct from court:

An employee of a company in Costa Rica arrived late to work from time to time over 10 months.  He was the only one who got to work late.  Everyone else always was on time.

The employer gave the guy a chance:  Sat him down and talked to him each time.  The boss also presented the tardy worker with warning letters to document the situation and comply with the labor law as he undestood it.  Even suspending the worker two days did nothing to correct the problem

Several more tardy instances occurred, finally causing the employer to give up and fire the worker. 

The employee sued the company and won.  The company had to pay punitive and compensatory damages.  Even against very incriminating evidence like time cards punched after work starting hours, warning letters, witnesses, and the worker’s own admission he was late.

To add insult to injury, the case had no appeal.  There are some districts in Costa Rica where there is no appeal in labor matters.

The employer was the "bad guy" in this case and stuck paying an employee who blatantly disobeyed the rules over and over again.

Why did the company lose?

The court said the employer accepted the behavior by giving the worker a chance.  The company created a state of "seguridad jurídica" or judicial security for the worker.  The court further explained in its judgment, the laborer felt it was acceptable to be late. He just had to accept the reprimands.

The Costa Rican constitution gives all citizens "seguridad jurídica" also known as the "rule of law."  This is the basic right to be secure in what one is doing because it is generally accepted.  What is generally accepted becomes the rule or the law, written or unwritten.

It is the premise that forms the foundation of law in Costa Rica.  The problem arises all the time in land ownership disputes where possession is sometimes nine tenths of the law.

What is an employer to do?  Be a "good guy" or a "bad guy." The true example of the recent labor court case above proves being too good to workers can backfire.

Being nasty to workers will just push all of them out the door.

The answer is to have the work environment well defined, with written policies outlining what is and is not accepted.

Well-written labor contracts should be signed by all employees, even domestic workers outlining the rights of the employees as well as employers.

When there is a transgression by a worker, it should immediately be put in writing in a letter call "carta de amonestación"  or warning letter outlining in detail the wrongdoing and that further occurrences will not be tolerated.

For an employee who is consistently a problem, one should only write three such letters over a work relationship with the last one being a dismissal letter outlining the reasons for the firing and referring back to the other two warning letters.

If indiscretions involve theft, the employer needs to document the act extremely well and fire the employee immediately.  "Seguridad jurídica" also can protect acts of stealing when accepted or forgiven.

The key word here when dealing with a laborer who is a thief is cautiously.  Firing an employee over theft is dangerous. Absolute proof is necessary to accuse or one will end up with a big lawsuit for defamation.  Usually, it is better just to get rid of the "bad apple," pay the crooked employee what is owed to him or her, and move on.

Something very important to remember regarding labor laws in Costa Rica, is that a worker’s Christmas bonus and vacation pay is untouchable.  No matter what the reasons for dismissal, these items can never be touched or attached.

An employer need not be hogtied by the Costa Rican labor laws.  They must be fair and consistent and not tolerate behavior or actions that fail to conform to the standards of the work relationship.  Doing so makes the bad behavior the norm and forevermore the new standard.

Garland M. Baker is a 33-year resident of Costa Rica who provides multidisciplinary professional services to the international community.  Reach him at  Baker has undertaken the research leading to these series of articles in conjunction with A.M. Costa Rica.  Lic. Allan Garro provides the legal review.  Reach him at  Copyright 2005, use without permission prohibited.


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More ethical pitfalls
for President Pacheco

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The ethical hot water deepened over the weekend for President Abel Pacheco.

Last week he faced criticism because he took a free airplane ride to the Dominican Republic and accepted a membership in an exclusive club there. Then this weekend, the Spanish-language press revealed that Pacheco had a free pass on TACA Airlines.

Sunday night Channel 7 Telenoticias devoted most of its half-hour news show outlining the relationship between the president, his chief of protocol and the former tourism minister with a Spanish businessman who is becoming involved in development of the government’s Papagayo project in northwestern Guanacaste.

The businessman, Bernardo Martín Moreno, also happens to be president of a Spanish non-profit foundation that agreed to publish Pacheco’s book "Poemas y cuentos" and distribute it for free. Pacheco, his protocol chief, Jorge Arce, and former tourism minister Ruben Pacheco, traveled to Spain for the presentation of the book, said the television station.

Martín now turns up as Costa Rica’s honorary consul in his hometown of Seville, Spain.

A subsidiary of Martín’s Inmobiliaria Somersen is seeking a concession to build an 18-hole golf course, residences and a hotel, said the television station.

The television station also made these revelations:

Arce now does legal work for Martín even while still holding a job with the president. 

Ruben Pacheo has emerged as a business partner in yet another Costa Rican subsidiary of Somersen.

The television station noted that the relationship of Pacheco with the Spanish businessman has been criticized for months by Albino Vargas of the Asociación Nacional y Empleados Públicos y Privados.

The station also interviewed legislators, including one who said the relationship should be investigated by the public prosecutor.

Meanwhile Pacheco is surrendering his airline pass. He has surrendered his membership in the Dominican club.

Plane crash kills 3
at Puriscal mountain

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A single-engine aircraft crashed into a mountainside near Puriscal Friday and three persons aboard died.

A passenger, Guillermo Picado Corella, 38, was an employee of Telenoticias, the Channel 7 news show.

Also dead was the pilot, Luis Cantillano Calvo, 34, and a student co-pilot, Juan Diego Marenco Herrera, 24.

All were from the San José area, and the aircraft departed the Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas Friday morning bound for Parrita on the Pacific coast.

Rescue workers speculated that the plane crashed into the side of the Potenciana summit due to bad visibility.

The aircraft was a Cessna 206.

Special practice session
set up for Internet TOEFL

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

PRINCETON, N.J. —  ETS will offer a free practice test for the Internet-based Test of English as a Foreign Language to coincide with the beginning of registration for the new test July 25.

The new Internet-based test will begin Sept. 24 in the United States. In October, the test will be offered in Canada, France, Germany and Italy, and will be administered worldwide in 2006. 

Students will be able to access the test known as the TOEFL, through the Practice Online community.

The free practice test is designed to help test takers become familiar and comfortable with the new test format. The practice test will present authentic questions and allow simulation of actual testing conditions, ETS said.

Our readers opinions

She also is against trade pact

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I have to agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Eric Scheuer from Warren, Michigan, and his letter encouraging Costa Rica to reject the proposed "free trade" treaty.  While rejecting the treaty will undoubtedly make Costa Rica a "bad guy" in the eyes of the U.S. administration, accepting it is NOT a good idea, either for Costa Rica or for the United States. 

As Mr. Scheuer pointed out, the effects of the free trade treaties already passed in the U.S. have decimated the regular workingmen (and women) of this county (the U.S.).  We have lost too many jobs to count, have not gained enough back, the ones we have gained are at minimum wage which means a working person qualifies for government aid by way of food stamps, Medicaid, and the like. 

All that I have seen as results from these treaties is huge financial benefit to large corporations, particularly the ones that contribute financially to President Bush and cronies. 

Be wary, Costa Rica!  Don't believe what Uncle Sam tells you about how great the benefits will be if only your government will accept the proposed free trade treaty.  None of it is true. 

And, once passed and accepted, there will be no way for Costa Rica to later back out.  Experience has already shown us that the provisions of the treaty with Mexico which included supposed terms regarding health, working conditions, and the environment, is/are not being enforced; that every complaint about these issues is fought; the degradation of our earth continues unabated; and all under the rubric of "free trade." 

 I hope that Costa Rica will be the one country which will actually have the backbone, the wherewithal, to Just Say No. 

And, as always, keep up your good work, A.M. Costa Rica. 

Judith Loring 
Stevensville, Montana

He sees no incentive 

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Dave McDuffie offers a good rationalization for accepting the tax plan, but still doesn't answer the question:  "Where is the incentive for an American retiree to seek residency status?" Why would anyone in their right mind want to get involved with another agency that collects taxes on income, especially one that has been trained by the IRS?  The idea is ludicrous. 

I, for one, am reasonable certain it will be simpler and less aggravating, not to mention less expensive, to forego residency and plan our vacation trips around the visa requirement.  I see no incentive to seek residency and in a way I think I will feel unwanted if the global tax is instituted. 

Ralph Antonelli 
Antioch, Ill. 
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A Memorial Day editorial
The legacy is certainly worth the sacrifices
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Today is Memorial Day, a time to honor the military dead.

In the United States there will be parades and cemetery ceremonies and a three-day weekend. Not much is happening here, except the U.S. Embassy will be closed.

The day is not a Costa Rican holiday. Lacking a military, Costa Rica still has public servants who put their life on the line. And this is a good time to think of them: Police officers, coastguardsmen, Cruz Roja paramedics, air service pilots and those in anti-drug units.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Those ex-soldiers are fewer in number now. World War I soldiers are a handful and there are no Civil War or Spanish-American war veterans left.
Each group has left its legacy.

We have plenty of graying Vietnam vets. Middle East conflicts are creating whole hosts of new soldiers to remember — even in Costa Rica, a country that has disproportionately benefited from the sacrifices of others.

The legacy of earlier wars are democracy, although in many countries the elite disdain the mere mention of the word. They prefer an authoritarian state. So soon are the lessons of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics forgotten. That is where the arrogant elite stole the lives of citizens for 70 years.

And in many places and in many ways we remember today the silent, solitary veterans of the Cold War who helped lift an unjust and decadent government from the backs of citizens.


That also seems to be the job soldiers from a handful of nations are doing in Iraq today. Would Iraq and the entire Middle East benefit from a tradition of democracy as has Costa Rica?

Is there something to be said for a lasting peace? The tragedy is, as our veterans have learned frequently the hard way that peace is something that must be won over and over.

The world is a tough place with some very bad and highly motivated people. Thank God for the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen and their courageous leaders.

Just because it's cheap doesn't mean its a good deal
Lo barato, sale caro

"The cheapest might turn out to be the costliest." In other words, if the deal seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Like that late model used car that turns out to be more bitter lemon than purring machinery after you’ve purchased it. 

The interesting thing about this dicho is not just that it’s so true, but that we’ve all ignored its warning and fallen for the ploy of getting something for nothing, and some of us have done so more then once. A friend of mine, who used to work near the Panamanian border, would buy cartons of cheap watches that had been smuggled into Costa Rica. He would then bring them to sell, at a huge profit, in San José. We all knew that those watches were not worth a plug nickel, but we kept on buying them anyhow. There was something so cool about owning contraband. 

Ironically, sometimes this dicho also works in reverse. For example, in Costa Rica health care coverage is very inexpensive and the care one receives is quite good, while in the States health insurance is astronomically expensive, and in the end often does not cover many illnesses and procedures when one needs it. 

I recently took a friend to our local hospital here in Bloomington, Indiana. Five nurses and medical technicians hovered over him attaching IVs, hooking him up to various electronic monitors, drawing blood and preparing tests. All very high tech, but I could tell from the expression on his face that he was wondering if his insurance was going to cover all of this, especially when an aspirin tablet administered in a U.S. hospital can cost upwards of $20! Then, of course, there are all the horror stories of unnecessary surgeries being performed just for the sake of bilking patients and their insurance companies out of thousands of dollars. 

We use Lo barato, sale caro, when buying almost anything, but it applies especially to large purchases such as land, a car, or a house where big sums of money are involved. We all need to take special care that we’re not being cheated. 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

 I remember reading, not long ago, of a Costa Rican family who bought some land a few years back on the Peninsula de Osa. They never bothered to check the ownership with the National Registry Office. They built a very nice retirement house on this plot of land. But soon after the house was finished, and they had invested much of their savings, the real owners of the property showed up and demanded that they vacate the premises. There was nothing to be done, but clearly they were a Costa Rican family and should have known better than to buy land without first checking on its ownership. They were perhaps more than a bit too trusting. Sometimes it pays to be a little suspicious.

I sometimes accuse my dear older brother of being suspicious about everything, and he is. But in many cases he’s right to be so. He always reads all the fine print, and then asks questions, and often does research, but he seldom gets "taken for a ride," as they say in English. 

It may not always be a good idea to trust first impressions about everything in life, but it pays to remember caveat emptor "let the buyer beware" — to quote an old Latin saying — if your first impression about a business deal is that it seems too good to be true. 

Hispanics in U.S. House vote to oppose free trade pact
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Hispanic Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to oppose the Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA.

U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, a member of the caucas, also voted against the measure and issued a press release later explaining his vote.

"This official decision to oppose CAFTA is a clear statement that we, as members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, believe that the Hispanic community deserves a better deal than this agreement," he said. "CAFTA is an extension of the NAFTA model, which has a terrible track record over 11 years," he said referring to th North American Free Trade Agreement among the United States, México and Canada.

"CAFTA proponents have tried to speak for the Hispanic community, and have not given up their strategy of smearing CAFTA opponents as ‘anti-Hispanic.’ I am pleased that the CHC has moved to dispel this nonsense. ‘Free Trade’ as it has been practiced has hurt Latinos in the U.S. and widened the gap between rich and poor. We’re not going to let the Bush Administration tell us what is good for us."

Even though Latinos are only 13 percent of the population, they account for 47 prcent of workers who have been certified to have lost their jobs due to the North American Free Trade Agreement and thereby 

qualified for help under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, said the congressman.

Grijalva outlined the impact the trade pact would have on immigration, a special concern for Southern Arizona:
Raúl Grijalva
"We have seen the impact of NAFTA on immigration, as the flow has increased due to 1.3 million Mexican farmers being forced off their land by cheap U.S. imports. The economies of Central America are even more dependent on agriculture, and a replication of the NAFTA experience would be devastating. When cheap U.S. imports come flooding in, Central American agricultural workers, about 50 percent of the population, will have to either take jobs in maquila sweatshops or migrate to the 
U.S. Grijalva also strongly criticized the pact’s labor provisions, which only require the Central American nations to enforce their existing laws, despite the fact that these laws do not conform to the standards of the International Labor Organization. He added:

"Finally, this agreement will do nothing to protect the rich, bio-diverse environment of Central America, and will give foreign investors tools to undermine the few existing environmental protections by simply claiming that their expectations of profits were not fulfilled." 

Leaky boat with immigrants saved from sinking
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Costa Rican patrol boat is on its way to Isla del Coco with some 320 kilos (more than 700 pounds) of food and medicine for battered refugees from a smuggler’s vessel.

Some 86 Ecuadorians are stranded on the island after their sinking ship was towed there.

Also on board the patrol boat, the Pancha Carrasco, are an immigration official, police and a doctor from the Cruz Roja Costarricense.

The food was donated by the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.

The boat’s passengers appear to have been at sea for some nine days and adrift for three after being deserted by the crewmen who were trying to smuggle them north, presumably to the United States.

A curious tale has emerged about the rescue. A fishing boat captain, Juan Venegas of the "Rey de Reyes," reported he found a bottle with a message seeking help afloat in the ocean. He said he was able to encounter the sinking vessel some 33 nautical miles west of the Isla del Coco, a national park.

The MarViva I of  a non-profit ecological organization of a similar name, carried coastguardsmen and park rangers to the location where they encountered the boat about midnight Saturday.

Because the boat was not seaworthy, the organization said its crew towed it to Isla del Coco where they arrived about 8:30 a.m. Sunday.  Aboard are believed to be about 86 individuals including some minors. Many are suffering from sea sickness, dehydration and other maladies, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. The boat, which does not carry a name or registration papers is believed to have departed from  Montañita, Ecuador.

National surf champions repeat for the 2004-2005 season
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Alvaro Solano and Lisbeth Vindas wrapped up the 2004-05 Circuito Nacional de Surf’s season in the Grand Finals at La Curva beach break in Playa Hermosa over the weekend with wins that again named both national champions for the second year in a row. 

"We had two beautiful, perfect surfing days to end nine months of hard work by all and the waves were good like always here,"  said Antonio Pilurzu, head of the Federacion de Tico Surf.

Surfers from all over Costa Rica competed for $7,500 worth of prize money.  The date was also competitor’s last chance to log additional points in their overall scores, which determine national rankings at this last stop on the 2004-05 tour. 

At the end of competition Saturday, each competitor’s 

top five —  out of a possible seven — tournament scores were tallied together leaving reigning champion Solano national champion in the Open category with 7,605 points. 

Ms. Vindas of Jacó took the women’s championship with 8,500 points, and Isaac Vega of Tamarindo was named champion for juniors with 7,355 points, and 14-year-old Jairo Pérez won overall for the boys category with a total 7,550 points. 

Even though Jaco’s Ronald Reyes, formerly of Venezuela, beat out Solano for the weekend’s Grand Finals prize money of $1,800, it was Solano’s constant focus and steady plan of attack that assured him holding onto his national title. 

"I feel content because I completed my goal; to win the title.  Of course, the money would have been nice, but for me that was not the focus,"  Solano said. 

Jo Stuart
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